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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hostility to the Truth: The More Things Change...

There's an old saying -- "The more things change, the more they remain the same." I thought of that this morning at Mass. The first reading was from Acts of the Apostles, the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. The elders and the scribes ruthlessly killed him. Why? Because he proclaimed a hard truth they didn't want to hear and because so many people, including "many priests," were embracing Christ's teachings. Stephen was among the most articulate of the disciples and worked many signs and wonders in the community. Members of the synagogue who debated him "proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke." And so the enemies of the truth determined to shut him up.

Well, there's more than one way to get your will, so, unable to best him in debate, they followed the same tactic used to crucify Jesus. They accused Stephen of blasphemy. (We have our own modern day "blasphemy" against the spirit of the world. If you oppose homosexual behavior or contraception and abortion, you must be accused and browbeaten into silence!)

The Sanhedrin listened to Stephen's discourse in hostility. He gave a history lesson of the chosen people that is instructive to our own era. "A new king came to power in Egypt...[who] forced our fathers to abandon their infants to exposure so that the people would not survive." Ah, yes, like our own "king" who not only champions the killing of babies in the womb but supports letting newborns die of "exposure" by denying them medical care. But he is just the latest in a long string of murdering tyrants beginning with the five men in black who decided Roe v. Wade. The fact that the killing targets the poor and minorities is covered up by those who use them as election fodder. No, things haven't changed much in 2000 years.

Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin of the chosen people's 40-year infidelity to God in the desert after they left Egypt. "You took along the tent of Moloch and the star of the god Rephan." In our day too the truths of the Holy Spirit have been abandoned for an earth worship, pleasure-centered cult that considers killing people a virtue to save Holy Mother Earth or guarantee the right to be happy unhindered by unwanted responsibility. So kill the babies by abortin and shunt Granny off to a nursing home and deprive her of food and water when you want her out of the way.

The words that stung Stephen's listeners to the heart could well be used against us:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always opposing the Holy Spirit just as your fathers did before you. Was there ever any prophet whom your fathers did not persecute? In their day, they put to death those who foretold the coming of the Just One; now you in your turn have become his betrayers and murderers. You who received the law through the ministry of angels have not observed it.
And then they killed him. Is our culture any different than theirs? The truth has been given and many have cast it off preferring the lie.  Our own scribes and elders shout and cover their ears against the truth. They drag their opponents into the market place labeling them hatemongers, judgmental and intolerant. If they can, they kill reputations and job opportunities and even strive to criminalize their opponents' speech and throw them in jail. And they are as relentless as Stephen's persecutors.

No doubt, as Stephen died, his enemies felt victorious. But it was Stephen who experienced a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. It was Stephen who died forgiving his murderers. It was Stephen who received the reward of a martyr and a prophet.

Imitate Stephen today: proclaim the truth without fear of consequence, forgive your enemies who hate and malign you in comments on blogs and Facebook or verbally outside abortion mills. Stand unflinchingly for the truth with the spirit of St. Stephen, confident that, by your faithfulness, the truth will be preserved. Fr. John Hardon often said that the Catholic Church will survive only were "there are Catholics who are living martyrs." Things haven't changed much in 2000 years. But, by the grace of God, we can remain faithful to the truth like St. Stephen before us.

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